DIR/WRI: Anders Thomas Jensen • PRO: Kim Magnusson, Tivi Magnusson • DOP: Sebastian Blenkov • ED: Anders Villadsen • MUS: Franz Bak, Jeppe Kas • DES: Cornelia Ott • CAST: David Dencik, Mads Mikkelsen, Søren Malling, Nikolaj Lie Kass, Nicolas Bro
Men & Chicken concerns, in part, combining different species to create monstrous hybrids, and the film itself is something of a hybrid. Imagine The Island of Dr. Moreau crossed with The Three Stooges, the result spliced with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and the whole concoction left to stew in a rambling, crumbling old country manor (or is it an old mental asylum?) straight out of Psycho or a Daphne du Maurier gothic nightmare. In Danish.
It’s a comedy.
“The humour on this island tends to be pretty basic,” says one of the characters. The line would serve as a comment on the film’s tone, which is slapstick, scatological, juvenile, and crass.
I loved it.
It is one of the film’s strengths that it gets to have its politically incorrect cake and eat it too, because while the set-up is farcical, the tone blackly comic, and the characters horrific, writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen (writer of In a Better World and After the Wedding) creates a great sense of warmth and – this might seem odd – gentleness.
On a remote island (pop. 44), the villagers know to stay away from a dilapidated, filthy sanatorium. Farm animals roam the hallways and live in the bedrooms. Five brothers (or half-brothers, or to more exact, varyingly fractional brothers, watch the film and you’ll understand what I mean) spend much of their time together beating each other with pots, pans, and stuffed animals. Each brother is physically disfigured. One has sex with chickens because he has never met a woman. One is compulsively violent. Another is a compulsive onanist. The basement is locked up and off limits. When rules of the house are broken, the perpetrator is locked in a rusty cage. Shift the film’s tone a few degrees and choose a more ominous soundtrack than the jaunty score by Frans Bak and Jeppe Kas, and you’d have one of the year’s more disturbing thrillers.
As it is, we are presented with a dark comedy about family, parentage, madness, and fraternal love. The brothers, Elias, Franz, Gregor, Josef, and Gabriel, are played by Mads Mikkelsen, Søren Malling, Nikolaj Lie Kass, Nicolas Bro, and David Dencik, and all are clearly having way too much fun. Mikkelsen, especially, with a harelip covered by an ugly moustache, and sporting a dreadful perm, must have relished the opportunity to play against type. Elias is a sex-starved buffoon who thinks he’s something of a Lothario. Imagine if Jerry Lewis or Bob Hope had to leave the movie every five minutes to masturbate, and you come close to Elias’s character. Gabriel (Dencik) is the most normal of the brothers (or the least bizarre, at any rate), and the film’s ostensible protagonist and stand-in for the audience. His occasional hiccoughing gag reflex at the others’ goings-on might be the nearest that the film comes to a meta moment.
“Life is life because the alternative is unthinkable,” someone says in Men & Chicken. It certainly is; this is a highly life-affirming film, and death is laughed at from the opening minutes. God also comes in for a decent slagging. Some have compared the film’s absurdism to Kafka, but there is a better comparison to another giant of European modernism. If Samuel Beckett had written dick jokes, he might have written Men & Chicken.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Men & Chicken is released 15th July 2016